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Bedfordshire Regiment Casualties from Lower Dean 1914 to 1918

The war memorial May 2011
The war memorial May 2011

The roll of honour outside Upper Dean churchyard bears the names of sixteen men either from or with substantial connections with Dean - a parish of about 350 people at the time. Nine of the sixteen men died on active service with the Bedfordshire Regiment. Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service is lucky in having the war diaries of each battalion of the regiment which served overseas between 1914 and 1918. Thus it is possible to say where these were when they were been killed, or received their fatal wound and what their battalion was doing at the time. Other details can be found on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website and in the pages of the volume of Soldiers Died in the Great War for the Bedfordshire regiment. Details for all the men including those who did not serve with the Bedfords can be found on the Roll of Honour website.

The first man to die with the Bedfords was Private Sidney Fary Dickens of the 2nd Battalion. He had been born in Dean and lived in Upper Dean. He was a regular soldier, having enlisted in Bedford before the war. He was killed in action on 18th October 1914. At this time the battalion was engaged in constant fighting east of the Belgian town of Ypres, trying to stem the German advance.

The battalion had been in South Africa when war broke out and reached Belgium, as part of 21st Brigade of 7th Division on 7th October. Their part in the fighting near Ypres began on the 18th with an advance along the line of the Menin Road to a point between the small towns of Gheluvelt and Gheluwe. The Battalion formed up on the road running from Poezelhoek to Becelaire facing south-east and advanced. On nearing the Menin Road and coming over a rise they were fired on by rifle fire. Advancing further and by then astride the Menin Road they came under shrapnel fire. A Company lost one officer killed and two wounded. Other casualties were recorded as one sergeant & one man killed, twenty one other ranks wounded and two other ranks missing. After this action the Battalion drew back slightly & entrenched a position with its right on the Menin Road. Private Dickens is buried in HarlebekeNewBritishCemetery, 20 miles east of Ypres, which was not taken by the British until October 1918. It is a cemetery accommodating the bodies of those from the nearby battlefields. Private Dickens must either have been the one man killed or one of the two missing in this little action. It is, perhaps, more likely that he was one of the missing, died in German hands and was buried by them.

Dean was spared any more fatalities until 19th April 1916 when Private Ernest Annis, of 8th Battalion was killed in action. He had been born in Shelton, he enlisted in Bedford, and resided, according to Soldiers Died, in Kimbolton [Huntingdonshire]. This is almost certainly a misinterpretation of the postal address of Dean at the time which would have been Dean, Kimbolton, Huntingdonshire.  Private Annis enlisted in April 1915. On 16th April 8th Bedfords relieved 10th Battalion, the Rifle Brigade in the front line at a spot called The Willows near Ypres. On 19th they were still there. It seems likely that Private Annis was either shot by a sniper or killed by an artillery shell; he has no known grave, being commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial. Presumably either his body was largely dispersed by a shell or he was buried and the war later rode over the site of his burial, or the cemetery was churned up by shell fire, and the location of the body lost. The war diary records two men wounded on 19th April and none killed. A man was recorded as killed on 18th. Either private Annis was actually killed on 18th or he was so badly wounded on 19th that he died almost straight away whilst still in the front line. He has an entry in the Bedford volume of The National Roll of the Great War which ends with the following quote:  “Honour to the immortal dead, who gave their youth that the world might grow old in peace”.

The third Dean man to die was Lance Corporal Joseph Law, also of the 8th Bedfords. He had been born in Swineshead, he enlisted Bedford and resided in Sharnbrook. Presumably he had either lived in Dean for a while or his family resided there at the time. He volunteered in February 1915 and only arrived at the front in the month of his death. He was killed in action on 25th September 1916 and is buried at the Guards Cemetery Lesboeufs, a village ten miles north-east of Albert .At the time the battalion was in front line trenches on the Somme between Morval and Lesboeufs. They were acting as reserve to the rest of 16th Infantry Brigade, 6th Division, in an attack on the German lines between the two villages. The attack commenced at 12.35.p .m. and the battalion moved up to the original front line when the leading battalion had taken the second objective at about 2.35 p. m. Casualties from the German artillery barrage very slight. The attack proved successful and many prisoners were taken. At night the battalion furnished carrying parties to front line battalions with ammunition and water. C Coy suffered very heavily from enemy shell fire. The village of Lesboeufs itself was taken by the Guards Division, hence the name of the cemetery in which Private Law is buried. It seems most likely that he was killed by the enemy barrage, even is it was “very slight” or that he was killed in the aftermath of the attack from the heavy shell fire on C Company. His entry in The National Roll of the Great War ends with the following quotation:  “He passed out of sight of men, by the path of duty and self-sacrifice”

Two days later Private Reuben Deighton was killed with the 7th Bedfords, also on the Somme. He had been born in Dean, enlisted at Aldershot and, like Ernest Annis, was recorded as living in Kimbolton. He was the son of Reuben and Judith Deighton of Ivy Cottage in Lower Dean and was aged just twenty. The 7th battalion, Bedfordshire regiment, part of 54th Brigade of 18th (Eastern) Division took part in a successful attack on 27th September. They had the honour of taking the all important village of Thiepval, which had been an objective of the first day of the Battle of the Somme – 1st July! The war diary reads as follows.

“The Commanding Officer (Lieutenant Colonel G. D. Price) and Adjutant (Captain J. H. Bridcutt) arrived at the Chateau in Thiepval after conferring with Lieutenant Colonel Maxwell of 12th Middlesex, commanding the scattered portions of the three Battalions [which had attacked the day before] i.e. 12th Middlesex, 11th Royal Fusiliers, 6th Northamptonshires. The Commanding Officer (Lieutenant Colonel Price) decided to attack the untaken portion of Thiepval i.e. the north-western part of the village. Dispositions for the attack were as follows C & D Companies, commanded by Captains Keep and Mulligan respectively were detailed for the assault which was to be carried out in two lines (waves) with C Company on the Right, D Company on the Left. A & B Companies were sheltered close at hand in German Dug-outs. Zero was fixed for 5.30 a. m. The morning was extremely dark and the assaulting companies had great difficulty in forming up for the attack on the correct alignment. At about 5.45 a. m. all was ready and a few minutes later the two lines advanced, sweeping across the untaken portion of ground and trenches. Two machine guns and a good deal of rifle fire opened from the enemy's lines but our troops (7th Battalion, Bedfords, C and D Companies) continued to advance and in a short time were in possession of the German trenches on the north-western face of Thiepval. Captain Mulligan and Second Lieutenant Potts fell badly wounded during this action, 36 prisoners were taken and about 100 Germans killed by rifle fire & bayonets. This action, though apparently small, was of the utmost importance as without the whole of the Village of Thiepval and the trenches surrounding it being captured the whole line of attack was held up. So to the 7th Battalion, Bedfords (especially C & D Companies) belongs the honour and glory of the final destruction of one of the Germans’ strongest position and one which they had boasted could never be taken (i.e. the village of Thiepval and its defences) Our casualties were 2 officers above mentioned and about 110 Other ranks in the above action”.

The 110 other ranks falling as casualties includes a high proportion of wounded. One of the dead was Private Deighton. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the huge Thiepval Memorial to the Missing just a few hundred yards away. Either his body could not be recovered (the battlefield must have resembled a scene from Hell having been fought over for so long) or later actions in the war (the Germans captured Thiepval on 25th March 1918 and the British retook it on 24th August that year) disturbed his grave.

Private Arthur Carrington, another man who served with the 8th Bedfords, died of wounds on 19th April 1917,a year to the day after Ernest Annis. He had been born in Dean, he enlisted Bedford, and last resided in Dean. In April 1917 the 8th Battalion was near Loos-en-Gohelle. They took part in an attack on 15th April just south of Loos. They suffered a heavy German barrage but finally occupied a position south of Loos Crassier. Twenty eight other ranks were wounded in this action. The next day they attacked again, taking their objective and holding it with the loss of two other ranks killed and seventeen wounded. On 17th April the battalion once more attacked successfully near Hill 70. As a result the battalion was congratulated for their good work by the Brigadier and General Officer Commanding 6th Division. Three more men died and seventeen more were wounded.

The following day at five in the morning the battalion attacked a nearby strongpoint. This failed “through the devastating fire poured on to them from concrete emplacements by hostile machine guns”. Hostile artillery was then active the whole day and at periods became intense. Seven more other ranks were killed and thirty three wounded. On 19th itself the battalion had to endure many counterattacks by the enemy but held all their ground. At night the battalion was relieved by 14th Durham Light Infantry and moved back to Maroc. Seventeen other ranks were killed and ninety one wounded in the action overall. On 20th April the battalion marched back to Philosophe and it is in PhilosopheBritishCemetery, Mazingarbe that Private Carrington lies buried.

Four days later on 23rd April, Saint George’s Day, Private Benjamin Bettles (or Beetles as he is named in Soldiers Died) was killed in action with 6th Bedfords. He enlisted in Bedford and resided in Hemel Hempstead [Hertfordshire] but presumably originated from Dean. The battalion was in the vicinity of Arras during the whole month of April 1917 and took part in the Battle of Arras which lasted from 9th April to 26th August. On 21st April the battalion was at Saint-Nicholas then on 23rd they assembled in Effie Trench near the Roeux to Gavrelle road. The war diary gives no details simply stating: “at 4.25 a. m. the Battalion was ordered to support the 63rd Brigade and finally dug in east of road between Roeux and Gavrelle” so it clearly saw some action. The battalion remained in this trench until an unsuccessful attack on Greenland Hill on 28th. Private Bettles’ body lies in an unknown grave or may still lie under the battlefield in an unmarked spot. He is commemorated on the Arras Memorial to the Missing.

Private Henry Thomas Hart of the 2nd Bedfords was born in Dean, enlisted in Bedford and is listed, like Deighton and Annis at Kimbolton. He died of wounds on 4th August 1917 and lies buried at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery 7½  miles west of Ypres. He was the son of Charles and Maud Hart of Covington [Huntingdonshire] and was just 22. On 31st July 5th Army began the main phase of the Third Battle of Ypres, also known as the Battle of Passchendaele. The battalion assembled north-west of Maple Copse ready to attack Glencorse Wood (eventually taken by 7th Battalion on 10th August). The attack was cancelled but the battalion suffered heavy shelling as it lay east of Dormy House before moving up to Jackdaw Reserve Trench late in the day. The next day the battalion remained in this vicinity and two officers were wounded, one fatally. The battalion was relieved in the early morning of 3rd August, returning to the area of Chateau Segard, then for Micmac Camp, remaining there on 4th. During these few days the battalion suffered fourteen other ranks killed, three missing and fifty wounded (one self-inflicted).

No more men from Dean were killed in 1917, the last three occurring during the last year of the war. Private Sidney James Rawlings of 6th Bedfords had been born in Lower Dean. He enlisted Bedford and still resided in Lower Dean. He died of wounds on 4th April 1918 and is buried at Doullens Communal Cemetery Extension No. 1. He was the son of John Rawlings of Lower Dean and was aged 24. At this time the battalion was holding the front line near Bucquoy at a place called Rossignol Wood. Seven other ranks were wounded on 2nd April and ten on 3rd. These wounds were part of the daily wastage as it was known, of men killed by artillery or by German snipers. One of these seventeen men was almost certainly Private Rawlings. He died at either 3rd CanadianStationaryHospital or the 2/1st Northumbrian Casualty Clearing Station.

Lance Sergeant John Samuel Bass served with 1st Bedfords. He had enlisted at Bedford and resided Upper Dean, having been born there. He was clearly a fine soldier having been awarded the Military Medal as well as having been mentioned in despatches. He was the son of William and Sarah of 3 Windmill Park Higham Ferrers [Northamptonshire] and aged 34. He was killed in action on 2nd September 1918 and lies buried at VaulxHillCemetery, Vaulx-Vraucourt four miles north-east of Bapaume. The war diary for this day reads: “Battalion advanced to the attack (in reserve) at 5.15 a. m. in front of Frémicourt. Casualties Lt. C. G. Hayes wounded etc. 94 Other Ranks killed, wounded etc.”. The attack was part of the Hundred Days Campaign in which the Germans were pushed from Amiens all the way back to Mons in Belgium (where the British army had first met the Germans in August 1914), via the old Somme battlefield of 1916. Vaulx-Vraucourt lay six miles or so beyond the furthest point reached during the 1916 battle.

The last casualty of the Great War was William Fairy Allen of the 2nd Bedfords. He had been born Dean, enlisted in Bedford and had his residence in Dean at the time of his death. He was killed in action 21st September 1918. He was the son of William Fairy Allen and Ellen Allen of Upper Dean and husband of Lily Bertha Chattle of Shelton who, in common with many widows of the war, did not wait long to remarry. He was 36. From 18th to 23rd September the 2nd Bedfords, now part of 54th Brigade, 18th (Eastern) Division, having amalgamated with 7th Bedfords, took part in operations round the town of Ronssoy. During these actions they lost one officer and forty eight other ranks killed, twenty nine of them on the same day as William Allen. His body was never recovered and he is commemorated on the Vis-en-Artois Memorial to the Missing.